21 June 2009

when i first exhaled

lillia frantin - mid to late 1980s

'don't forget to love yourself.'
- soren kierkegaard

while i was walking, my mind wandered to people who had helped me to grow & to words spoken that had caused me to see life differently and redirect my path... i am a libra... but thru my early college years, in an attempt to validate myself to myself, i became a borderline type A personality... i was very detail - oriented... for example, as a kid i would build houses from shoeboxes - but with smaller rooms, levels, furniture, phones, etc... but often missed the bigger picture... in high school i couldn't figure out what to do as i did well in all subjects - i didn't consider how i liked them, just how i performed in them... so i went off to college to prove myself... first engineering, then economics, doing well, but not happy... i had a surgery that required me to come home and be home for a year... so i attended my community college...

i signed up for an art history class because i just felt like i wanted to take something i might enjoy... sit down in the auditorium, very earthy woman walks in with silver earrings dangling and she begins to talk... she makes note of a new development that was going up and the irony of how they usually choose names for the communities that reflect what was torn down - like green meadow, etc... and then came the art... it was a lightbulb moment's worth of excitement combined with the release of an exhale held for 20 years... i was done, it was over... this is a major? something i love can be something i can do for my life's work?... i was floored
... lillia frantin freed me... i took money i had saved and money i made at work and bought an oil painting of hers at a gallery... i love the van gogh/matisse-like feel it has, the way line roams around the painting keeping the eye moving... and to my serious mind now beginning to relax, the color was exquisite...

when i returned to rutgers, it was to the art history department, where i absorbed every art history class i could... still there was that rigidly detail-oriented person who lingered... it was priscilla, the ph.d. student, who unlocked that door for me... she was explaining how to take the tests when slides are placed side by side for comparison... my way was usually to be very specific... and then she said, "what is the point of the comparison?" ... it sounds so simple now, but hearing someone say "what is the point?" what is the big picture? i felt myself stepping back and seeing everything differently... it is a lesson i count as one of my greatest...

i then met matthew baigell, the american art professor who i did my year long honors thesis with... he was very interested in revised history... i studied the difference in how the westward movement was painted vs. how it was diaried by women who actually made the trip... i went to him one time and asked a question... he replied, "i don't know, but let me find out."... again, this was momentous... i had always felt like i had to know and here was this man i respected so much telling me he didn't know... i had put so much pressure on myself... and he blew the door off the hinges...

i wasn't hard on others, only on myself... holding myself to a near impossible standard that was pulling me apart... the world of art and academic art has been good to me, and i began to heal - but that is the process of a lifetime...

this blog was not meant to be purely self-indulgent, but rather to trigger the memories of lessons learned that free us... sometimes we get so busy we forget them, and need only to be reminded...

lillia's painting is one of my treasures, for it represents a key shift in who i became...

don't forget to love yourself...


  1. A thought provoking post. I often wondered what I would be and how I would make a difference in this world had I gone to college. A regret, but not so much that I want to change that at 58 years old. I have a purpose in life which was chosen for me. I am waiting to free myself to achieve my deep seeded desires. For me, there will be another life.

  2. new chapters can always be added to your life story... as long as there is desire combined with action, you can be what you want to be... i guess it was more a reminiscence on sage advice... i was just lucky to bump into those people at that place... my grandfather made 'this too shall pass' reminders that he had in his home... when he died, that was all i wanted from him... that, and his hat - which smells of him still... thank you carol for sharing this with me... positive energy is being channeled your way!

  3. Oh MJ! This is a truly wonderful post! I was going to pop over here after my appt, but wanted to peak at your post - glad I did. I have experienced many hard life lessons that at the time did not realize they were lessons until I opened my eyes & heart to them. I'm still experiencing them :) Happy day to you my friend!

  4. thank you rocki - i think i am just going to post a blog where people can share their lessons... i never tire of hearing about other's growth

  5. Mary Jane: What a wonderful glimpse into an evolving self. It is amazing how others come into our lives at pivotal moments ... when readiness meets opportunity ... and we are the better for it. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. What a gift.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story! It's so amazing how life can change and our true path revealed when we least expect it. I really enjoy reading your blog! :)

  7. thanks barbara & cindy - i really enjoy your blogs too... how lucky are we to live in a time when we can all help each other and have never met?!


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